Human Rights Watch says security forces in Ivory Coast have carried out torture, rape, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings during the political crisis between the country's incumbent president and the internationally-recognized winner of November's presidential vote.
Human Rights Watch says security forces and militiamen loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo are imposing a reign of terror against supporters of the United Nations-certified winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.
"Of course, we went into our investigation looking at the potential for attacks by supporters on both sides of the political divide. What we found was that the vast majority of them involving security forces and militia have targeted Ouattara supporters, northern Ivorians, as well as West African immigrants," said Corinne Dufka, the Human Rights Watch senior researcher for West Africa.
Dufka says that after interviewing more than 100 victims and witnesses in the commercial capital, Abidjan, it is clear the violence of the last two months has been politically motivated.
"In the course of committing these very serious atrocities - including, killings, rapes and forced disappearances - the witness and the victims that were not killed very clearly spoke of the security forces, mentioning the fact that they were pro-Ouattara. During the course of rapes, they said things like, 'Go tell Alassane,' that is Ouattara's first name, 'Go tell Alassane that it was we who did this to you,'" Dufka said.
Dufka says many Ouattara supporters were attacked during a march in the Abobo neighborhood on December 16. She says some were shot without warning. Others were killed by fragmentation grenades.
Dufka says the violence did not stop when the day ended. "Following that incident, there were numerous raids by the security forces which seemed to target mid-level RHDP [i.e., Rally of Houphouétists for Democracy and Peace] supporters. And those occurred not during the day when the march took place, but instead in the middle of the night when people got knocks on the door and they were dragged out of the houses, sometimes to be found in the morgues and other times their family members have yet to find them," she said.
While the Human Rights Watch investigation found a preponderance of attacks were carried out by security forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, Dufka says there is evidence of pro-Gbagbo families fleeing their homes and police being attacked by Mr. Ouattara's supporters.
"On the 16th of December, our witnesses described a police officer firing at demonstrators from his building. The demonstrators then went up into the building, dragged him down and burned him alive. On the 11th and 12th of December, at least seven police officers were killed in Abobo. The circumstances around those killings are not clear," Dufka said.
Mr. Gbagbo's government says the police officers were killed by Mr. Ouattara's supporters.
Dufka says Human Rights Watch wants Mr. Gbagbo to disarm civilian militia members manning checkpoints in Abidjan. She says increased patrols by United Nations peacekeepers have helped restore order in some pro-Ouattara neighborhoods.
Human Rights Watch says it eventually will release a full-length report on its findings, but issued this preliminary report to urge immediate international action to protect civilians and ensure that the perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice.